2015-02-16

“It is absurd to suggest . . .” — Shirley Jackson Case on The Historicity of Jesus

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by Tim Widowfield

Shirley Jackson Case

Shirley Jackson Case — Credit: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf1-01582, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Way back in the previous century, I attended Ohio University at Athens. A young, naive freshman, I headed off one gloomy autumn day to the campus library, searching for source material for an astronomy paper. The stacks were vast; I was looking at more books than I had ever seen in one place.

By New World standards, OU is an old school, founded in 1804, the year after Ohio entered the Union. They’ve been gathering books and periodicals for quite some time.

According to Wikipedia, the Vernon R. Alden Library has switched completely from the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress System. However, back in 1977 they were still in transition. All the old books were in Dewey, but the staff were categorizing new acquisitions using LOC codes. I gravitated to the old stacks, perhaps because I was more comfortable with the older numbering system. Or maybe I just like the smell of old books.

Ready Steady Go!

At any rate, that day I came upon Fred Hoyle’s Astronomy from 1962. Hoyle, of course, believed in the Steady State theory of the universe. This was my first introduction to it, and I found it fascinating. So I wrote a short paper on the subject, based on Hoyle’s treatment. What my naive freshman self didn’t know was that just a couple of years after Hoyle published Astronomy, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson found the echo of the Big Bang — background radiation evenly spread throughout the sky, compelling evidence for the origins of our universe.

[I find it mildly ironic that while writing this post, news has arrived that calls into question the Big Bang. Try wrapping your head around this: “Brian Koberlein from the Rochester Institute of Technology pointed out that while it may appear that the study suggests that the Big Bang did not happen, the event still occurred.“]

While reading Shirley Jackson Case’s The Historicity of Jesus, I was reminded of that incident from my youth. As I recall, the teacher’s aide who graded my paper was more forgiving than I deserved. But I learned my lesson. It’s all right to have some familiarity with older research, but the careful student will always keep up with the most recent work in the field.

On the bright side, because Case’s book is over a century old Google (before it lost interest in such altruistic efforts) has lovingly scanned it and put on line. You can even download a PDF copy or read it at archive.org. On the other hand, because he wrote it nearly 103 years ago, some of the arguments are a little stale.  read more »


2015-02-13

Once more on Paul Holloway and N.T. Wright’s Honorary Doctorate

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by Neil Godfrey

Otagosh: See Theology, hairdressing and Huns

One parenthetical comment in particular caught my eye:

(My impression is that, rather than appealing to hard core fundamentalists, Wright’s following consists of many thoughtful but compromised evangelicals who are looking for a hero, someone who can provide a much-needed intellectually sound defence of their faith. . . .  The writer also points out that this sort of evangelical fan-theology has a long track record. . . .) read more »


2015-02-12

The Rhythms of Palestine’s History

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by Neil Godfrey

whitelamThe reality of Palestine’s long history from the Bronze Age to the present has been lost behind the myths of the Bible.

Think of Palestine’s past and images of Israel displacing the Canaanites from around 1200 BCE, establishing a united kingdom, even an empire, under King David and then his son Solomon slip easily into our minds. We think of the divided kingdom: apostate Israel in the north ruled from Samaria and Judah in the south with its Jerusalem temple. We know these kingdoms were removed by the Assyrians and Babylonians by around 600 BCE and that the Jews returned once again after a period of captivity.

And they re-returned to “the land of their fathers” to “re-establish the Jewish State” as proclaimed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence of 1948. The historical right of the Jews to the land of Palestine remains evident today to possibly most Christians and anyone taught this historical outline.

Archaeological-Historical Periods in Palestine

  • Early Bronze Age 3150-2000 BCE
  • Middle Bronze Age 2000-1550 BCE
  • Late Bronze Age 1550-1200 BCE
  • Iron Age 1200-587 BCE
  • Persian 538-332 BCE
  • Hellenistic 332-63 BCE
  • Roman 63 BCE – 330 CE
  • Byzantine eras 330-636 CE
  • Early Caliphates 636-661 CE
  • Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Seljug 661-1098 CE
  • Crusaders 1099-1291 CE
  • Ayyubid and Mamluk 1187-1517 CE
  • Ottomans 1517-1917 CE
  • British 1920-1948 CE
  • Israeli 1948 – present

The question we might ask, then, is what is the history of the Palestinians? The biblical narrative leaves them no room for a history in the land. Are they late trespassers? Are they rootless Arabs with no genuine attachment to any land in particular?

Until his retirement Keith Whitelam was Professor and Head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Stirling and Professor and Head of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield. His recent publication, Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past, surveys the archaeological evidence for the history of Palestine from the Bronze Ages through to the end of the Iron Ages and compares what he sees with the Palestine from more recent times according to travelers’ reports and current geo-political maneuverings.

He concludes that our Western view of Palestine’s history has been determined by the biblical narrative and conflicts with the archaeological evidence before us.

The past matters because it continues to flow into the present. However, Palestine has been stripped of much of its history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is as though Palestine only came into being with the British Mandate (1920-48) and came to an end with the declaration of the modern state of Israel (1948). The growth of towns, the shift in villages, or the population movements of three millennia before have become divorced from this ‘modern’ Palestine. (Kindle Locations 42-46).

Whereas others who have been gaining their independence from imperial domination ever since the nineteenth century and especially since World War 2 have been able to construct their own national histories as an essential part of their national identities, read more »


2015-02-11

Darwin Day — and exploding some myths about Charles Darwin

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by Neil Godfrey

12th February is Darwin Day.

There is an International Darwin Day website that is currently making a special pitch at Americans for recognition. For good reason, no doubt, given that today’s newsletter from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science contains the following (with my emphasis):

As a universal figure of such profound importance, his birthday should be a national celebration — a day to honor the advances brought about by reason and science. 

But a resolution to this effect, introduced in the U.S. Congress, has little support outside a handful of Democrats. Frighteningly, Darwin is still considered a controversial figure, especially among conservative Republicans.

For anyone who does not yet know, just about everything we have that Darwin produced is available in digitized format at Darwin Online.

And I happily live in a suburb where the Beagle crew called in back in 1839 and work at a university that eventually took the name of Charles Darwin.

But here’s the highlight of this post, brought to us by Freethought Blog The Ace of Glades:

Darwin was no racist, and Hitler was no ‘Darwinist’


Strange Bedfellows in New Testament Studies

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by Neil Godfrey

In my books an apologist includes any academic who defends some sort of privileged status for the veracity or contemporary relevance of the narratives and teachings of the Bible. N.T. Wright uses the historical methods of New Testament scholars to argue for the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus. That ought to ring alarm bells to any serious academic. Evidently we need to question the reliability of methods that can be used to prove such nonsense; we also need to wake up to the confessional interests of a “scholarly” field that can even tolerate any of its members seriously arguing such a thing.

Scientists do not work with methods that allow one to prove God made Adam and Eve; and their guild would never give professional respectability to a member who member who argued dinosaurs were included on Noah’s ark.

Historians do not work with methods that allow for battles to be decided by mysterious angels appearing in the sky and nor would we expect them to grant professional esteem to a colleague who argued the angels of Mons decided the outcome of World War 1.

But it is quite common in New Testament studies to find scholars being highly respected academically even though their works amount to a litany of “proofs” for their personal confessional beliefs.

There are a few New Testament scholars who do speak out, however. One of these is Paul Holloway, Professor of New Testament at the University of the South. He protested against his university awarding N.T. Wright an honorary doctorate.

My complaint is that Sewanee has recognized Wright as a scholar in my discipline, when in fact he is little more than a book-a-year apologist. read more »


2015-02-09

Islamic State : How it came about and how it works

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by Neil Godfrey

Anyone who wants to understand how the Islamic State came to be as formidable as it clearly is would welcome the a 28 minute BBC documentary currently available online, Islamic State: Bureaucracy and Brutality. If you don’t have 28 minutes and more or less trust the notes I took down as I listened to it then you are welcome to read on.

The source, Aimen Dean

The interviewee is Aimen Dean, a Saudi Arabian who spent twelve years inside the IS. He left Saudi Arabia in the 1990s to join the mujahideen in Bosnia. After that war ended he went to the Philippines and from there in 1997 to Afghanistan where he joined Al Qaeda.

Aimen says he became disillusioned by Al Qaeda’s drift towards terrorism so he became a spy for the West and worked for the British Foreign Office gathering and analysing information.

Comparing Al Qaeda

IS is a hundred times bigger that Al Qaeda ever was in terms of recruits, firepower and financial resources.

Al Qaeda is looked on with some contempt by IS now for having had no focus or clear direction. Al Qaeda operated through support for scattered cells or local autonomous franchises without any central structure or organization.

IS is tightly organized and focussed. IS considers Al Qaeda’s attention on America to be a waste of time and effort, a distraction from the real goal. What IS is aiming for is the overthrow of other states in the Middle East.

To accomplish this they understand that they must become an organized state power themselves with military power concentrated in a particular region.

IS has managed to take over a quarter of Iraq and a third of Syria because they have a proper, solid infrastructure, both financial and intelligence.

IS Bureaucracy

IS has a Department of the Public Good responsible for maintaining roads, cleaning the streets, street lighting, the provision of education. 

They control certain professional positions by their own licensing system. No one can become an imam in a mosque, a teacher in a school, a pharmacist, a doctor, a lawyer, until they attend a Shariah course for one week to obtain their licence. In other words they need a course in indoctrination before being permitted to practice.

Elitist isolationism, liberating the psychopath within

read more »


2015-02-08

Evidence for a Pre-Christian “Christianity”?

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by Neil Godfrey

spiritpossession

Professor Stevan Davies has re-published his book Jesus the Healer under a new and probably more appropriate title, Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity, a new introduction on the pentecostal origins of the Christian movement (including an account for comparative purposes of the origins of modern pentecostalism since 1906) and added a couple of chapters on the possible evidence that Christianity emerged out of a form of Judaism we find expressed in the Odes of Solomon. Although some scholars have seen these poems as having been influenced by Christianity Davies argues for the traditional view that they are pre-Christian. And if pre-Christian, they are evidence of beliefs held by certain Jews that eventually had a profound influence on Christianity.

Scholars today (Charlesworth, Lattke) have dated the Odes to around 125 CE, at “the overlap of early Judaism, early Gnosticism and early Christianity.” Davies argues with others (e.g. Jack Sanders) that they influenced Christianity rather than the reverse and that they date from the period 50 – 25 BCE.

Western Syria (which includes the region of Galilee) is the most likely place of their origin.

It should be, but often is not, obvious that there were cultural influences on Galilee, and Samaria, and even Judea that come from the north, from Syria, Tyre, Sidon, Damascus, Antioch, influences on Judaism that were not Judean in origin. (p. 260)

Distinctive features 

While the Odes speak of a Christ figure they convey no hint of any awareness of a Jesus. If we define them as “Christian” they are of a quite different type of Christianity we read about in the New Testament.

Their Christ figure is a human who becomes Christ and who has no particular historical identity.

The Odes share vocabulary and phrases that appear in early Christian documents but the ideas conveyed by these shared expressions are quite unlike anything we associate with Christianity.

They do not mention

  • forgiveness
  • atonement
  • sin
  • resurrection
  • ascension
  • baptism
  • eucharist
  • the name of Jesus
  • any sayings of Jesus
  • any event in the life of Jesus
  • cross or crucifixion

The word “cross” supposedly appears twice in the Odes of Solomon (Odes 27 and 42), but only when translators such as Charlesworth take the Syriac (qaysa) or Greek (xylon), the word for tree or wood and translate it as “cross.” Less tendentious translators do not do this. . . .

Davies suggests that those passages should probably be translated to convey the image of a suppliant stretching his arms upward in prayer like tree branches. They do not depict arms stretched out as if on a cross.

The Odes do remind us of the Gospels with their references to:

  • a virgin and a virgin birth
  • a dove fluttering above the Messiah

But notice how unlike the ideas found in the Gospels these expressions are: read more »


2015-02-07

What they’re saying about Religion & Atheism

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by Neil Godfrey

Eleven very recent and less recent blog posts and news feeds follow. Take your pick.

HectorAvalos

Hector Avalos

Hector Avalos, known to most of us for The End of Biblical Studies and Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (discussed across 5 Vridar posts) has had a new article published in Ames Tribune . . .

Blaspheme or else …

Two paragraphs from the article:

Bill Maher, the atheist humorist, believes Islam is entrenched in the Middle Ages . . .  Thomas Friedman . . . believes that Islam needs the equivalent of the Protestant Reformation, while others deem Islam to be inherently incorrigible.

Many of these commentators overlook how much of the Muslim jihadist view of blasphemy derives directly or indirectly from the Bible, the foundational text of Christianity. Yvonne Sherwood’s Biblical Blaspheming: Trials of the Sacred for a Secular Age (2012) discusses some aspects of the long reach of biblical blasphemy laws in western culture.

Avalos, of course, supports efforts to repeal blasphemy laws, period.

For most secularists/pluralists, you must blaspheme — or else your freedom of expression will inevitably be hostage to one religion or another. 

Holy Jesus, I nearly forgot to cite my source for this story — h/t John Loftus on Debunking Christianity, thank God.

–o0o–

This one is not really about “religion and atheism” but it’s worth including here to get the message out the sooner – - – -  Peter Kirby has done us another favour by creating a Biblical Criticism Search Engine.

Now you can search the greater Biblical Criticism Blogosphere, a carefully curated collection of websites, blogs, books, articles, and resources containing about 30 billion web pages indexed and searchable with a Google Custom Search Engine. The search prompt can be found here:

http://bcharchive.org/

–o0o–

PZ Myers of Pharyngula alerts us to a bloggingheadsTV discussion where I find some of my own reservations re Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens brought out into the open:

Jeet Heer and the New Atheism

I don’t see the point of having an atheism that is pro-status quo, pro-imperialist, and which is indifferent to issues of inequality and patriarchy. If you’re going to have that, you might as well go to church.

That the New Atheism has already become part of a doctrinaire, anti-social justice attitude is troubling, but I think it was there from the beginning. The Thinky Atheist Leaders who carved out this niche clearly didn’t think those issues were important — even while some of us who happily jumped on the New Atheist bandwagon thought they were, and were simply oblivious to the indifference of the horsemen who were galloping into the fray. Now some of us who were trotting along with the rest of the cavalry are drawing back . . . . 

It’s very uncomfortable. Maybe I’m a New Atheist in some ways, but not in other ways, and maybe I need a new banner to rally under, or maybe we need to just let the leadership blunder into the cannons while the rest of us regroup and refocus. . . . 

It’s a tough place to be, sacrificing all that momentum while we mill about and try to figure out a rational approach. But that’s what atheists should do: think.

–o0o–

But there’s hope. Also h/t Loftus, and again with Hector Avalos gaining another mention:

The Second Wave of New Atheism is Here

Dr. Hector Avalos tells me that in his forthcoming book, The Bad Jesus, he speaks of a Second Wave of New Atheism, which he defines as atheist advocates “who have more formal training in philosophy, biblical studies and theology.”. . . .

–o0o–

Many of us have probably seen Stephen Fry’s delicious account of what he would say to God at the Pearly Gates:

It’s worth repeating until learned by heart.

The point here is that Mano Singham has found the pious intellect of Giles Fraser responding sagely to Fry. In the interests of fair play and equal time here it is:

I don’t believe in the God that Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in either

–o0o–

without godGavin R or Otagosh has found one of those curious hybrids:

Another Atheist Theologian

Today I learned that this troublesome priest has outed himself as – shock, horror – an atheist.

In an interview with Religion Dispatches he talks about his new book Christianity Without God . . . and makes some memorable remarks.

“I think the main passion of the conservative mind is fear… Fear makes you reach for a supernatural insurance policy.”

Unlike all too many of those who have transitioned from various forms of Christianity to godlessness, Maguire retains the ability to engage in the conversation without the smug, tone deaf invective that shuts off communication rather than opening it up.

–o0o–

Here’s another story of a religious person meeting atheism but this time finding a different outcome. It’s by self-described “God-nerd” Christian Piattread more »


2015-02-04

“Why You Should Take Richard Carrier Seriously”

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by Neil Godfrey

Who is Daniel Gullotta? Background info here: “Daniel N. Gullotta is a budding New Testament scholar and early Christian historian committed to the secular study of ancient religion. Daniel describes himself as a friendly agnostic-atheist with humanist values, but with a deep love and obsession with the Bible.”

Daniel N. Gullotta is not a mythicist. He believes in the historicity of Jesus. So his blog post on Richard Carrier’s argument for the Christ myth theory, Why You Should Read Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, is especially interesting.

Gullotta begins:

Throughout the centuries, the Jesus/Christ Myth has found few, but notable, adherents such as Constantin François de ChassebœufBruno Bauer, and Arthur Drews, noted as the forefathers of the Mythical point of view on the historicity of Jesus. More recently, G.A. Wells[*]Earl DohertyRobert M. Price, and Richard C. Carrier have become the most prominent figures within the school of thought. Now with Carrier’s publication of On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt and Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesushe now stands as the most dominant voice in favor of this thesis.

Daniel Gullotta agrees with Stevan Davies, another “historicist” that mythicism ought to be addressed seriously:

[L]ike Stevan L. Davies, I believe that “the Mythicists have discovered problems in the supposed common-sense of historical Jesus theories that deserve to be taken seriously.” Many scholars have simply opted to completely ignore the Jesus Myth theory (and with some understandable reasons), however I do not think that is the right approach, especially for people who do wish to assert the historicity of Jesus. 

What is special about Carrier’s contribution? read more »


A New Gospel Discovery (For Real, this time!)

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by Neil Godfrey

newgospelH/T Archeologia Biblica e Storia della Chiesa, blog of Antonio Lombatti, Scoperto un nuovo vangelo in Copto = A New Gospel in Coptic Discovered . . . 

Newfound ‘Gospel of the Lots of Mary’ Discovered in Ancient Text (article by Owen Jarus in Live Science)

The manuscript is 1500 years old. Reportedly discovered by Anne Marie Luijendijk, a professor of religion at Princeton University.  It’s opening lines:

“The Gospel of the lots of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she to whom Gabriel the Archangel brought the good news. He who will go forward with his whole heart will obtain what he seeks. Only do not be of two minds.”

A key word there is “lots”. I’ll explain.

The book is very small. It can fit easily in the palm of one’s hand. It appears to have been used in ways not unlike the way some people read their daily horoscopes:

A person seeking an answer to a question could have sought out the owner of this book, asked a question, and gone through a process that would randomly select one of the 37 oracles to help find a solution to the person’s problem. The owner of the book could have acted as a diviner, helping to interpret the written oracles, [Luijendijk] said.

It would apparently be opened up at random (or by spiritual guidance?) for the right “lot” to be found to advise the reader or inquirer.

Sample oracles:  read more »


2015-02-03

So Jesus read Plato?

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by Neil Godfrey

phaedrusAnother Aussie blogger, Matthew R. Malcolm of Cryptotheology, today posted published an interesting post, Plato and Jesus on inviting the poor. Matthew raises a question that emerges quite often to anyone who knows the Bible and reads widely among the ancient texts, Greek, Roman and Jewish. One regularly stumbles across passages that sound just like something in the Bible. I have posted on some of these “ah ha” moments and have many, many more lined up eventually to post about “one day”. Surely there must be reference books identifying these passages. Does anyone know of one?

I take the liberty of quoting the same edition of the Plato passage cited by Matthew:

If it were true that we ought to give the biggest favour to those who need it most, then we should all be helping out the very poorest people, not the best ones, because people we’ve saved from the worst troubles will give us the most thanks. For instance, the right people to invite to a dinner party would be beggars and people who need to sate their hunger, because they’re the ones who’ll be fond of us, follow us, knock on our doors, take the most pleasure with the deepest gratitude, and pray for our success. (Phaedrus 233d-e, Cooper’s edition)

Recall Luke 14 (NIV). The same ideal ethic (pie in the sky ethic in Plato) is taught as a necessity by Jesus: read more »


2015-02-02

Why Luke Changed a Jesus Miracle Story

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by Neil Godfrey

centurion-kneeling-at-the-feet of JesusIn Luke 7 we read about Jesus being urged by his fellow Jews to have special sympathy for a Roman centurion whose beloved servant was at the point of death “because he (the centurion) loved” the Jewish people and had built them a synagogue.

The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them. (Luke 7:3-6, NIV)

A story so similar it is generally believed to be of the same event is found in Matthew 8. (Now if you do not believe the author of the Gospel of Luke knew the Gospel of Matthew then mentally re-adjust what follows to apply to the way Luke changed a tradition known to Matthew or to the way a tradition known Matthew’s spawned a mutation that eventually found its way to Luke.)

Matthew’s tale reveals a very different centurion. Not a word about his affinity with Jews. Rather, in Matthew’s account it is the centurion’s distance from Jews that establishes the whole point of the story. read more »


2015-01-31

Keeping Up with Richard Elliott Friedman

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by Tim Widowfield

Somebody on Facebook today posted a link to TheTorah.com that leads to an interesting article by Prof. Richard Elliott Friedman. It’s called “The Historical Exodus: The Evidence for the Levites Leaving Egypt and the Introduction of YHWH into Israel.” In it, Friedman argues that the Exodus really happened, but it was just a small group (the Levites) who did the “exodusing.”

It turns out he has a book on the way that will explain his argument in detail. No word yet on its release date, but here’s a tempting preview:

[David Noel] Freedman added that this had implications for the historicity of the exodus. Many scholars and archaeologists say the exodus never happened. 90 percent of their argument is based on the lack of artifacts in Egypt or Sinai and on finding few items of Egyptian material culture in early Israelite sites, which we would have expected if the Israelites had lived in Egypt for centuries. But that isn’t evidence against the historicity of the exodus. At most, it is evidence (more correctly: an absence of evidence) against the tremendous number of participants that the Torah pictures.

I had included the idea of a non-millions exodus in my Who Wrote the Bible? back in 1987, and I raised the idea there, just as a possibility, that the smaller exodus group was just the Levites. That possibility looks substantially more tangible today than it did in 1987.

If you’re interested in this subject, you can read an interview from spring 2014 over at ReformJuaism.org in which Friedman argues that “The Exodus Is Not Fiction.” He says: read more »


2015-01-29

What they’re saying in the world of archaeology

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by Neil Godfrey

Some recent news (and not quite so recent) that has come to my attention via the social media —

Arabia_saudita-_Iscrizione_(Imbert)A forest of crosses and names of martyrs in the desert of Saudi Arabia

A Franco-Saudi archaeological team is responsible for the discovery. Prof Frédéric Imbert dated the graffiti to 470-475, a time when anti-Christian persecution began, culminating under the usurper Yusuf. Even the Qur’an refers to it indirectly. The findings show how far Christianity had spread at the time, until the arrival of Islam.

Has anyone seen “First Century Mark”?

By P. J. Williams. He begins

I have had correspondence with Craig Evans and have his permission to confirm that he has not seen the alleged first-century manuscript of Mark and does not know the identity of the scholar or scholars to whom it has (presumably) been assigned for publication.

10 Great Biblical Artifacts at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem

Nothing new, but it’s always nice to visit a museum.

The Walls of Assyrian Nineveh destroyed

This is an Italian site so most of us will need an online translator. No doubt by now there are some sites with this story in English but this is the one that came to me first. From my Google translator:

A source in Nineveh province revealed on Wednesday, that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “ISIS” terrorist organization has resumed bombing historical buildings and monuments in the province, noting that it has blew up the historic wall in the center of Mosul.

The source, who asked for anonymity told “Shafaq News”, that “ISIS terrorists have destroyed on Tuesday night large parts of the historic wall of Nineveh in Tahrir neighborhood in the left coast of the Mosul area, noting that terrorists have used large quantities of explosives”. 

Ah, how I miss Saddam …

_80397343_closeupXray imaging and the Herculaneum Papyri

This one I can’t wait to learn more about. I suspect the results won’t be known for many years, however.

Hundreds of papyrus rolls, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and belonging to the only library passed on from Antiquity, were discovered 260 years ago at Herculaneum. These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents. In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls. Until now, specialists have been unable to view the carbon-based ink of these papyri, even when they could penetrate the different layers of their spiral structure. Here for the first time, we show that X-ray phase-contrast tomography can reveal various letters hidden inside the precious papyri without unrolling them. This attempt opens up new opportunities to read many Herculaneum papyri, which are still rolled up, thus enhancing our knowledge of ancient Greek literature and philosophy.

There is an earlier story (again in Italian so keep the translator handy) on Antonio Lombatti’s blog.

Pagan deities in ancient synagogues

I’ve always wondered what to make of these. The author’s attempt to rationalize an explanation with modern sensibilities strikes me as naively amusing. read more »